AFL-CIO’s first female president hopes her landmark election will inspire other women

Liz Shuler speaks at the Lincoln Memorial during the ‘Get Your Knee Off Our Necks’ Race Justice March in Washington, USA on August 28, 2020. Olivier Douliery / Pool via REUTERS / File Photo

Aug 24 (Reuters) – The first woman to lead America’s largest labor federation wants more women as decision-makers in a labor movement that is becoming less masculine and less white.

“When you see women in key leadership positions, it encourages women to continue to aspire for more,” Liz Shuler said in an interview hours after the AFL-CIO’s executive board elected her. president Friday.

Shuler, 51, had been the federation’s number 2 officer since 2009 and became interim president following the sudden death earlier this month of Richard Trumka, who had served as AFL-CIO president since 2009. read more following

The Executive Council chose Shuler in a special election to fulfill Trumka’s unexpired term. Shuler said she plans to get re-elected when the 56 unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, which together represent 12.5 million workers, meet for their convention next June.

Kate Shindle, president of the Actors Equity Association, a performing artists’ union, said the board elected “not just any woman – this woman, who works to the bone, and deserved it thanks to his intelligence, his collaboration and his courage. “

Shuler rose through the ranks of the male-dominated International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). It started in 1993 by organizing office workers at Portland General Electric (POR.N), where linesmen were represented by the IBEW.

“The reason these women came together is that they saw the power of a union that men already had in the company,” she said.

Known as a consensus builder, Shuler takes office as AFL-CIO unions debate whether the federation should redirect resources from lobbying and advocacy to direct funding for the organization to stem the long-term decline. term of union membership.

Shuler said expanding union membership requires a multi-pronged approach that includes winning legislation, such as the Right to Organize Protection Act, as well as organizing.

She added that workers “are really looking for hope right now after we got through this pandemic, after seeing the lack of safety protections, which companies will put workers at risk.”

With Shuler’s assumption of the presidency, the AFL-CIO Executive Council elected as its successor Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, the first African American to hold the post. The other top AFL-CIO leader, Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, is also black.

Until Shuler, the top leader of the American Federation of Labor had been a white man since his founding 135 years ago. This continued when he joined the rival Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1955 under George Meaney.

At the grassroots level, women make up nearly half of all union members, up from a third in 1983, according to Labor Department data analyzed by the Employment Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. During the same period, the share of non-whites among union members rose from 22% to 37%, according to the statement.

“The labor movement itself – and the workforce – is much more feminine than it has ever been in the past, and in this way the AFL-CIO is finally reflecting what is happening in the rest of the world, ”said Ileen DeVault, who teaches labor history at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Long-time labor activist Karen Nussbaum said Shuler’s election would have been unthinkable when she co-founded 9to5, a workers’ advocacy group, in the 1970s.

“When we started to organize, you couldn’t convince the labor movement to take us seriously,” Nussbaum said.

Even now, only about a quarter of the nearly 50 members of the AFL-CIO’s Executive Board are women.

Shuler and others have acknowledged that the number of women union leaders still does not match their numbers in the ranks.

“I can’t say ‘mission accomplished’,” said Elise Bryant, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women. “I think there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Shuler said she wasn’t sure if she would face a challenge when she sought re-election at next June’s convention.

So far, the only potential candidates discussed in union circles are women: Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Nelson and Weingarten did not respond directly when asked by Reuters if they were planning to show up.

Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Donna Bryson and Dan Grebler

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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